So, Walter White, you’ve vanquished your enemies, freed yourself from answering to anyone and, as you told your wife on the phone after Gus Fring went boom, you won. What do you do next?
You clean up loose ends, is what you do. The Season 5 premiere of “Breaking Bad” finds Walt as powerful as he’s ever been — with Gus Fring out of the way, seemingly nothing will hold him back now.
Except, you know, for the fact that the investigation into Fring’s death could lead straight to him. And the fact that Skyler gave a bunch of their money to Ted Beneke, which means he’s not nearly as rich as he could be. And Mike would just as soon kill him as look at him.
So, maybe being the king isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — and judging the unbelievably intriguing opening scene, it’s not. Let’s get back to that in a bit and deal with the present-day events first.
There’s a dialogue-free montage a short time into “Live Free or Die” that shows Walt cleaning up the evidence of his bomb-making at his house. He finishes, pours himself a drink, then puts it back down when he remembers that he also has to get rid of the plant he used to poison Brock. Then, after his family gets home safe and he’s finally enjoying that drink while saying hi to baby Holly, he remembers something else. “Oh s**t,” he says.
Writ larger (and more comically), that’s what the whole of the premiere is about: Walt looking over his shoulder and generally getting acquainted with the notion of “heavy is the head that wears the crown.”
Because it picks up pretty much right after Walt kills Gus, he has to cover his tracks — including incapacitating the laptop police seized from Gus’s office that contains Superlab security footage. Walt wants to build another bomb, which Mike tells him will be futile against a heavily reinforced evidence room — and they both ignore Jesse’s great idea to use a magnet.
The plan actually works (mostly), and it plays almost like a lost scene from “Ocean’s 11.” The laptop goes blooey (and presumably has its data good and scrambled by the power of the magnet, and although Walt’s last blast with the magnet breaks their truck, it’s basically untraceable. Except: Another damaged piece of Fring evidence, a picture frame from Gus’s desk, reveals information on a bank account in the Caymans. So unbeknownst to him at the moment, Walt isn’t fully in the clear.
Nor is he in the black, having learned from Saul that Skyler took $622,000 of their money to pay of Ted Beneke’s IRS debt. (As for Ted: Of course he didn’t die from his slip and fall on the Throw Rug of Doom last season. That would have been too easy. Instead, he’s got a halo brace screwed into his skull and is still a couple days away from eating solid foods. But hey, at least he won’t say anything now.)
Skyler seems to be the only one (other than Mike, perhaps) who’s really seeing clearly. Walt, caught up in the rush of being so decisively right (which he loves more than anything), can’t imagine anything or anyone challenging him. Jesse is just glad to be through with the Fring business. Walt Jr. is stoked that his uncle Hank is such a hero. But Skyler? She’s scared, of her husband mostly, but also, it would seem, of what this new reality will mean for her and the business. She’s stuck, basically, and doesn’t see a way out.
OK, so: about that opening scene. It’s Walt’s — or, if you prefer, Mr. Lambert’s — 52nd birthday, which would put the scene two years to the day from when we first meet Walt in the pilot and a year or so from the show’s present. Walt has regrown his hair and has a fuller beard, and he’s posing as a guy from New Hampshire — whose state motto gives the episode its title — to meet
Ellsworth Bobby Lawson at a Denny’s and buy a really, really big gun. Holy. Schnikes.
Given the way the show usually progresses, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll catch up to the opening by the end of this summer’s run (absent another flash-forward), but it’s pretty clear that Walt will not be walking carefree into the sunset.
After the incredibly tense season last year, it feels OK for “Breaking Bad” to take a breath and show Walt and everyone else adjusting to their new conditions. But even at this more relaxed pace, “Breaking Bad” remains riveting television, and it’s great to have it back.
What did you think of the “Breaking Bad” season premiere?